“When I had nothing to lose, I had everything.”–Paulo Coelho
I can’t remember the precise moment I fell in love with teaching, can you? If you really think about it, do you really think falling in love with teaching is something one decides to do? Those of us who have made it past those tumultuous first five years when (statistically speaking) our chances of quitting are far greater than our chances of staying, know that teaching isn’t what we do, it is who we are. I come from a long line of teachers. My grandmother, two great-aunts, and both of my parents were teachers. So, you could say that I was cultivated in conditions that would make this path undeniable, unavoidable. I like to believe it was written in the stars, that my intuition, the circumstances of my birth, and timing placed me in just the right position to find my life’s work. I knew, from the very first class I taught, that I belong with the children. I belong with you. So here I am, and here I will remain.
Not a day goes by that I am not appreciative of the gift that teaching has been and still is in my life….
This love is constant – There isn’t really a moment when teaching isn’t on my mind. I think about my students when one of them has had a particularly hard day, or had to leave my classroom in tears. I feel the love for my community when Seniors or other alumni come back to visit with their babies or stories from college, or good news about trips they have planned. I show love for teachers by writing blogs, joining Twitter chats, and doing my best to capture small moments of the agony, and beauty that characterizes the mood in many classrooms these days. There is no moment in which I am not thinking about how to make things better for teachers and the children we serve. At this point, I don’t think I could stop thinking about the work if I tried. It has become a part of my life, and my identity, and I feel I am better, stronger, able to live more fully because of it.
This love is true – I tell my students often, “If you are going to write something, make it from your heart, and make it true.” If you read something I’ve written, I can promise you two things – it will definitely be from my heart, and I can promise you that it will be MY truth. You may read echoes of the student you once were, the teacher you once had (or are), and you may come away with a better understanding of how we’ve gotten ourselves into the current mess, but what I hope most that you will come away with a sense of empowerment and conviction at the fact that we can and ARE changing this educational landscape for the better–by standing, and acting, together. When I share my truths with the world, it is with the goal of opening up a space for conversation and transformation, to remind folks that the job of educating a child is a responsibility that belongs to all of us. When we do it well, the truth of that is very evident–just as it is when we do it poorly. I am here for the truth, and I’m here for you, however long it takes us to get to the heart of things…and to begin healing.
This love is a force – In order to reclaim education, the future, and our intellectual freedom from forces that would willfully contribute to our miseducation, and that of the children, it is essential to speak, but more importantly do the work, letting actions speak for themselves. I am a black female educator who stands in front of our children every day. Yet I am well aware that I am one of many voices. Due to the inequities regarding who gets recognized as an “expert” in educational spaces, I am well aware that there are others, from all walks of life, who do not get heard, who do not feel seen. Sometimes the inequities within education are enough to make me feel knocked over. But, I know that together, we are a force equal to, or greater than those that are in opposition. I know that love is the most powerful force in existence, and when it is applied with passion to a given cause or situation, it can work miracles. So I stand beside you. All of you. Listen, if you see me out there in the world, know that I give hugs. Hugs are miracles, laughter is a miracle, teamwork is a miracle, and I am here for all these miraculous events. We are better and stronger, together. Together with our students, and other allies and advocates, we are a force for change.
But these are strange times…Never before, has the world seen a group of students like those in classrooms today. Fluent in most forms of technology, multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic, able to travel the world via YouTube, Google cardboard or Oculus, they are able to find introductory information on anything in an instant using Wikipedia–these children are learning all the time. In an age where information belongs to everyone, and no-one, do we really still need teachers? This is the eternal question, isn’t it? When politicians and policy makers get together and make decisions that affect us, yet leave us out of their conversations, they try to make us feel that we are not worth discussing. TV shows and movies reduce us to our worst stereotypes. Large, for-profit corporations tell us what to teach and how to teach it, then publicize our inability to produce uniform results in a country that claims it values diversity. Teachers’ unions are being systematically disassembled. Tenure has all but disappeared, yet school calendars, bell schedules, and core class selections have stayed the same. It sometimes feels like society does not trust us–as viral videos of ‘bad teachers’ float all over the web. Yet, most people have no problem leaving their children with us for hours every single day.
In all honesty, this calling isn’t for everyone. The insulting trope that, “Those who can’t do…teach” had to have begun with somebody who never set foot in a classroom. Being an educator is a humbling way to spend the day. Almost every teacher I know has, at some point or another, been brought to their knees with frustrations about educational inequity, systemic dysfunction, lack of communication, lack of funding, teacher pay, or a host of our other “educational family” problems.
We regularly say that, “The struggle is real”–because it is. With cell-phone culture giving birth to a society of insatiable voyeurism, there is the potential for a window into every classroom, and criticism of every teacher. Each of us, sooner or later has to wrestle with antiquated notions of “professionalism” and an educator “double-consciousness” wherein the self is divided into public, and private. And so, I have questions: What does it do to a person to have to split oneself in order to survive emotionally, or to maintain job security? Why can’t society accept us being our true and whole selves? Is it because we are supposed to be role models for the children? Why are we held to a higher standard than those leading the country? What could possibly serve as a foundation, helping us to survive all of this? Love. All things are endurable when we, ourselves, are the source of the love for this work. We are the fountain from which hope springs eternal, along with the courage, talent, and endurance necessary to continue the fight, despite the odds.
We know that teacher enrollment programs across the nation have experienced a staggering decrease in the number of people willing to sign themselves up for the often gratifying, sometimes soul-crushing life of a public servant. Perhaps the biggest consequence of this is that most high school students will tell you readily and openly that they would rather do anything than sign up to be a teacher. What does that mean for their children, and future generations? Though Google has made information available in a way that has never been known before, contrary to popular belief, one cannot learn all that one needs to know in life from the Internet. We do more than deliver content. We forge relationships, and help young people navigate the often troublesome waters of childhood and adolescence (think about seventh grade for a minute–yeah–that happened). We give students a home away from home, with each classroom in every building, in every school acting as a mini-ecosystem, a microcosm for the world, a family of sorts.
So this post is my love letter to teaching, but it is also my love letter to every educator who knows what it really means to dedicate one’s life to the betterment of our world by investing in its children. This is my tribute to all who are about this messy, chaotic, demanding, frustrating, uplifting, and eternally hopeful life. I hope that my words, my work, and my love, will uplift, sustain and strengthen you. I hope that you will feel my eternal optimism–my faith in the power of transformation that comes from minds and hearts meeting each other in spaces where we learn and grow together–willing a better world into existence. I hope that next time we have a presidential debate, education won’t be completely left out of the conversation. I hope those whose path is made a little easier because someone else receives a little less will consider that the true cost of their privilege may be much greater than it initially appears. I hope we in different communities, states, and regions can work together to re-invent our system of education so that students develop a love of learning that lasts a lifetime.
At its core, education is love in action. All love requires some kind of an investment, and sometimes, a multitude of sacrifice. To depart from a system of indoctrination and conformity to one that prizes authentic learning experiences and intellectual exploration above all–is an enormous undertaking. I always say that children know the value we place upon them by those we place in front of them. It is always an aspiration of mine to represent the best of us, and to deserve the love, trust, and respect that has been extended my way. I stand before the children, and before you with a determination to always do better, an unquenchable thirst for more knowledge (always), and a fierce desire to make sure the children, ALL children, are provided with the education they deserve. The children deserve the best. May we come together, each with our own flame, and start a fire in the heart of the movement to take education into its next, beautiful stage of transformation. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week 2018.
Yours with love,